Thursday, September 25, 2008

Feminism at the Strand's Vaudeville

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My friend Margaret Loose, a Victorianist at UC San Diego, is here to examine Victorian periodicals at the British Library. What a joy to see her again after the great time we had in UC Santa Cruz last month at the Dickens Universe! We made plans to meet in the evening at the Vaudeville Theater at the Strand where I have been dying to see Dame Aileen Atkins in The Female of the Species.

I ran a couple of errands in the morning (post office, purchase of a small table-fan), then walked to the Half-Price Theater Ticket Booth at Leicester Square (my first time since I arrived here a month ago) with fingers crossed, hoping I would get two good seats to the show. And hallelujah! There they were. Mission Accomplished! Two Dress Circle seats in the bag and even at half-price, I paid the princely sum of 26. 50 pounds each, which at our awful exchange rate, makes it close to $50 per ticket.

The drizzle began around that time. I tried to find the shortest route to the National Gallery, little realizing that Leicester Square was right behind the National Portrait Gallery. I was so grateful to escape into the warm confines of the museum where my studies of the collection continued in the Renaissance section as I scrutinized the religious art and became introduced, for the first time in my life, to an Italian artist called Carlo Crivelli. I cannot recall seeing the work of this artist anywhere; not even in Italy. Yet, the National has a whole gallery devoted exclusively to his work--and was I struck! The minute detail that he captures in his compositions, the overall grandeur of the scale of his work, the lavish use of gilding and the finely-wrought faces of his human figures were so striking as to leave me contemplating each picture with rapt attention. Homan Patterson's book is proving to be invaluable in achieving an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the works.

Because it was still raining, I did not turn to the steps of Trafalgar Square to find a spot to eat my homemade sandwiches--I sneaked into the cafe at the National instead and in its cheerful interior close to the self-service section munched on my lunch while giving my feet a well-deserved rest.

Then, it was time to walk through St. Matin's Lane, past a lovely old rotary called Seven Dials, so-called because the rotary has at its center a tall obelisk around which are the dials of seven watches. I pressed on through the spritz before arriving at Bloomsbury Square and ensconcing myself in my office to get on with some paper work and make phone calls that were pending.

Before I knew it, it was almost 6 pm, and I was amazed and very pleased at the amount of work I managed to accomplish. I made so many phone calls and appointments to meet the respondents of my proposed survey on Anglo-Indians. Most of the folks I spoke to were the epitome of graciousness and hospitality and spontaneously invited me over to their homes "for a meal". Most live on the outskirts of London, outside the Underground network. Getting to their homes to conduct interviews will involve taking commuter trains; but I would rather meet them in their own milieu. A few have gladly volunteered to meet me in London and I have gratefully taken them up on their offers. For the most part, they seem pleased to talk to me about their lives as immigrants in the UK. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to their cultured Indian accents on the phone, the clear intonation, the polished diction and the kindliness of their modulation. It reminded me very much of the many Anglo-Indian mothers of the many friends I had in school who spoke in such a polished manner. I know I will enjoy meeting these folks in the coming weeks. I also sent out email requesting more interviews and in the hope of connecting with other scholars working in the same general area of academic endeavor.

Then, I was home, freshening up and getting all dressed up for my night out with Margaret at the Strand after fixing myself a quick bite. I had intended to walk to the theater, but having left home late, I jumped into the Tube and within 15 minutes, I was at the Vaudeville. Margaret arrived just a minute later and we spent the rest of the evening catching up.

The show was everything I expected it to be--first of all, it was hugely funny.Secondly, it was brilliantly written, being a fine spoof on feminism. The reviews I had read on the Internet alleged that the plot was based on a real-life incident that had occurred in the life of feminist Germaine Greer who was accosted in her own home by a frustrated conformist whose mother had grown up with Greer's writing and had rejected feminism and her own daughter! While Atkins played feminist writer Margot Mason with a naturalness that is expected of her, it was Sophie Thomson who plays her daughter Tess who was the star of the show. What I loved most about the play, apart from the witty dialogue and superb acting was the fact that each time a new character appeared on stage, I was jumping in my seat because I had seen him/her on the many British TV shows I have watched for years on PBS. There was Sam Kelly, for instance, in a small cameo at the very end, playing Theo, Margot's publisher. I did not recognize his name but his face was unmistakable as the German soldier on the show 'Allo, 'Allo and as the husband Ted on the TV series Barbara. He was also one of the chief writers on the long-playing show Are You Being Served. As for Molly Rivers, she was played by Anna Maxwell-Martin and I knew the moment she stepped on stage that I had seen her somewhere--only it drove me crazy as I simply couldn't place her. It was only when the play ended that I sneaked a peak at the Playbill (or Program as they call it in the UK) for which one has to pay as they are not handed out upon presentation of a ticket, that she played Esther Summerson in the recent Masterpiece Theater version of Dickens' Bleak House. Then, of course, I remembered how much I had admired her acting in that show.

Well, since the night was still young and Margaret and I hadn't finished catching up, we went off to a pub called The Chandos on Chandos Street behind the National Gallery where I had a pint of stout. Margaret told me about her research and I told her about my new life in London and before we knew it, it was 11 pm and we had to call it a day!

I was delighted to see Aileen Atkins on stage after being completely taken by the role she plays in Robert Altman's Gosford Park and after having seen her in the flesh for the first time 22 years ago when I first arrived in London and had gone to see a play called Let us Go Then, You and I..." based, of course, on T.S. Eliot's poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in which she had co-starred with none other than Edward Fox.

Did I say before that the reason I so love the theater in London is that you always get to see stars perform in the medium they themselves love best--the theater--when audience reaction is immediate and encouraging and eggs the artistes on to give of their very best?

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